A 45-year-old man was sentenced Friday to serve 15 years to life in prison for fatally beating and stabbing his girlfriend last year at their West Valley City apartment.
Thomas James Valdez Jr. was convicted by a jury in July of first-degree felony murder and felony possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person for the March 2010 slaying of 55-year-old Maralee Andreason. He was sentenced to zero to five years on the weapon count.
Third District Judge Judith Atherton, who described the attack as "brutal in the extreme," ordered the two terms to run consecutively and said she would recommend to the Board of Pardons that Valdez never be released from custody.
Family members told Atherton that Valdez took the life of a woman who was a beloved friend, daughter, sister, mother and grandmother, and asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
"She was compassionate and caring even for someone like him over here," said Travis Andreason, Maralee's son, as he looked across the room at Valdez.
Valdez smirked and shook his head as Travis Andreason, reading a letter from his mom's best friend, said Valdez had "no intelligence."
"You have no place in society," said Lisa Sealey, Andreason's sister, who spoke through a sign language interpreter and glanced periodically at Valdez. "Anyone who could beat a small, gentle, loving grandmother so mercilessly is inhuman. You are inhuman."
Lisa Sealey also read a statement from their mother, Beverly: "I hope and pray that every day and night that the demons from hell will be with you to make you remember what you did to my precious Maralee. We will miss her forever and curse you for taking her from us."
When Sealey read that their mother hoped Valdez would "repent in hell," he again smiled slightly and nodded his head.
Otherwise, Valdez sat impassively through the hearing and declined to make any statement.
Andreason's desire to see the best in people led her to fall in love with Valdez, family members have said. They met through a mutual friend in 2004 and built a relationship through letters while Valdez served four years in prison for a domestic violence assault on a former girlfriend, who was beaten so severely she needed plastic surgery to repair facial fractures and a broken nose. They began dating after Valdez was paroled in 2008 but the relationship was rocky. Andreason's family said Valdez attacked Maralee with a knife in 2008, damaging tendons so severely she needed surgery.
Travis Andreason said Friday that two weeks before his mother was murdered, he begged her to leave Valdez.
According to charging documents, West Valley City police found Andreason on the bedroom floor of her apartment near 3800 West and Rockwood Way (3390 South) on March 9, 2010. Valdez's uncle called police about 8 p.m. that day to say Valdez had told another family member that Andreason was dead.
Police found blood stains throughout the apartment and a knife near her body. Valdez later told investigators he had argued with Andreason and assaulted her, according to charges.
Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey found puncture wounds and a large cut on Andreason's forehead believed to be from the knife and testified she died from blunt force trauma combined with blood loss. Andreason also had bruises and a rib fracture consistent with a severe beating, according to charges.
During Valdez's trial, defense attorney Manny Garcia claimed Valdez slapped Andreason before the woman died because he had been told she cheated on him with his 22-year-old nephew. Garcia claimed Andreason then threatened to take her own life and stabbed herself, cutting her cheek when Valdez tried to pull a screwdriver-like tool away from her. The argument between the two settled and Andreason went to the bathroom, where she fell and hit her head on the tub, Garcia said. He also said Andreason complained about chest pains and Valdez gave her four nitroglycerin pills, which may have increased her blood flow.
Garcia said Valdez held Andreason for hours after discovering she was dead, unsure of what to do but finally went to his mother's home. Valdez called his sister around 2:30 a.m. on March 9 and told her Andreason had a heart attack. His sister called an uncle about 6:20 p.m. and asked him to check on Andreason, according to testimony. The uncle called police.
Valdez's family members have said the man left the home and did not call police because "nobody would believe him because of his past."
Prosecutors contend Valdez concocted a story as "damage control" to cover up his role in the killing.